Not car, not SUV: BMW X4 crosses new territory
June 6, 2015
Bimmer enthusiasts, like the new wave of farm-to-table foodies or recreational MJ connoisseurs, are awfully particular about the rules and nearly academic purity related to the products they love. Doctrinaire, even.
It is then odd as an interested but not-on-the-payroll outsider to see such vivid vitriol for the X4 "sports activity coupe" among the BMW faithful, considering that it is an attractive, dynamically powerful and fully European vehicle – albeit a tad unconventional in design.
Like the Porsche fans who soiled their drawers when the first Cayman SUV emerged, and then became additionally incontinent when the divisive Panamera debuted, the new X4 has been lighting up the BMW discussion boards for more than a year.
That's a little harsh as it's quite a pleasant vehicle and addresses yet another micro-niche that's perceived to exist in the SUV/CUV market – a more car-like version of the well-established X3, but still equipped with a gear-friendly hatchback and one very curved roofline.
And it's certainly not quite as much of an abomination as the larger X6 or something like the short-lived Acura ZDX, which really did stray into Pontiac Aztek territory.
Here, you get the goodness of the X3 platform (dropped, extended and made more car-like, mind you), plus all the tremendous athleticism of the BMW driveline. There's the choice of either a 2.8-liter four-cylinder or the 3.5-liter inline-six I enjoyed – both turbocharged – with the latter producing 300 horsepower, good for energetic uphill jaunts and highway cruising that can stray into the 27 MPG range.
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The stats help explain what they did to craft the X4: it's half an inch longer than the X3, but also an inch and a half lower to the ground, and it gets a much more automobile-inspired fascia and body treatment than the upright X3. Giant under-the-bumper air intakes help indicate this is not exactly a car, however.
You still get 49.4 cubic feet of cargo room, with the 40/20/40 split second row seats folding flat or splitting down the middle as a pass-through for skis or some 2x4s; the rear deck offers cargo tiedown rails and cubbies for some of your day-to-day goods.
But looks here are very important, as is the relatively high price for the vehicle – my 3.5-liter model, with the xDrive AWD system, started at $48,925 but I cannot even imagine how much it cost in the end, with the addition of leather, the M Sport package, rear camera or any of the goodies offered in five pages of factory options.
What I opted to concentrate on was the X4's pleasant and borderline rugged handling out on the road. It flies along and drives just like its automobile siblings, with steering that's so precise that a half-second spent eyeballing a Facebook update will have the car in the other lane. Both hands on the wheel, even in an unconventional BMW.
You will rarely be at a loss for power with that 3.0-liter – the aforementioned M Sport package gussies up the looks, the aluminum left pedal and the door sills, but does not imbue the car with 200 extra horsepower, sadly – and the eight-speed transmission does an admirable job on its own, unless you want to micromanage it with the wheel-mounted paddles or the Norelco shaver shift knob. Throwing the car into Sport or Sport-Plus mode hops up those shift points or even partially deactivates the electronic stability controls, should you want to act like an imbecile.
However, if you opt to actually go offroad in the X4, I discovered that the xDrive system allowed a street tire-equipped BMW not-exactly-SUV to tackle some gullies and shoots that left a diesel Jeep Cherokee dead in the water on a similar trip. X4 has eight inches of clearance and an electronic hill descent control that can help out when, again, you think it a wise idea to explore high-alpine mining sites in your expensive BMW.
The interior is of course impeccable, though one might say that despite some brushed aluminum highlights, the plastic does seem a bit prominent for the price point. Seating is nonetheless superb and body-huggingly sporty; rear seating is poised just a tad higher for better views of the road.